Carson knocked on Blake’s door and heard the familiar gruff bark of warning from Hobbs. The door swung open and Blake’s face was before her. His hair was unbrushed, curls askew. His dark eyes widened when he saw her, unexpected, at his door.

“Hey, baby,” he said as a crooked smile of pleasure eased across his handsome face. “I didn’t expect to see you till tonight.” Leaning forward, he kissed her. She tasted something deliciously bitter and tangy on his lips and, looking down, saw he carried a beer in his hand. He was careful not to drink when she was around, an effort she deeply appreciated, and he now tried to discreetly tuck the bottle behind his back. Hobbs immediately came to sniff it.

“Don’t stop on my account,” she said irritably, passing Blake as she walked into the room. “Better yet, why don’t you have a drink for both of us.”

Blake’s smile collapsed to a frown. He held the door a moment, inhaled deeply, then closed the door and followed her into the small living room, pausing only to set the beer bottle on top of a stack of mail on the front table.

Carson went to the brown nubby sofa that seemed ubiquitous in bachelor apartments. She plopped down and idly glanced around, her fingers tapping her thighs.

This, she thought, was the place she was supposed to call home in a short while. She felt a cloud of dismay float over her. It looked more like a college student’s apartment than a career man’s home. How could he not see that books and magazines sat everywhere in tilting piles, that his torn leather La-Z-Boy looked more like a holder of laundry? The sisal rug had been chewed in one corner by Hobbs, and she didn’t even want to count the food stains. In the corners and under tables were tumbleweeds of Hobbs’s hair.

Her gaze roved to the galley kitchen, which was part of the open plan of the apartment. He didn’t have dirty dishes lying everywhere, thank heavens. Blake was careful about bugs. But he was clueless about the purpose of cabinets. The counters were cluttered with boxes of cereal, bags of bread and rolls, and electronics plugged into the wall.

The trouble was that she was as bad as, or worse than, Blake at housekeeping. Didn’t couples try to find someone who was the opposite so that they complemented each other? How would they ever manage living together? Suddenly Carson felt desperate that she’d be leaving the spacious and beautiful Sea Breeze for this cramped, bland apartment.

The whole wedding—the thought of getting married—suddenly made her feel anxious and just plain scared. She used to be able to tone down her insecurities with a drink—and she craved one now more than she had in months. It was a physical ache. So she clenched her hands and knees and tried to physically hold herself together. It felt as if she were holding back a bomb about to go off.

Hobbs ambled by, tail wagging, and gently nudged her knee with his nose. It was wet, cold, and slobbery. She usually gave the dog a good rubdown when she came in, but today she couldn’t. “Go away,” she barked at him, pushing his big block head away.

The big yellow Lab stood for a moment, looking wounded, as though wondering what was wrong.

“Hobbs, settle,” Blake ordered as he drew near.

Hobbs cast a final baleful look at Carson and obeyed the command, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor as he trotted to the corner where his bed lay. He settled onto the cushion with a grumpy grunt.

Blake didn’t sit. He leaned against the kitchen-island counter, resting his elbows on it. His dark brows were gathered and he was watching her warily.

“Carson. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I didn’t get the job at the aquarium.”

He sighed in understanding. Pushing himself from the counter, he took long strides and was at her side in an instant. “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too.”

“It’s only one job. You’ll find another.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He paused, taking in her mood. “Okay, your dukes are up. You’re looking for a fight. I don’t want to fight.” He rose to his feet. “Want some coffee?”

No, she wanted to scream. She wanted some tequila. Vodka. “Sure. Thanks.”

She stared out the window, through the cheap vinyl blinds, at the trees outside, listening to the noises coming from the kitchen. She knew what she wanted to tell him, but knew if she said the words, Blake might end their engagement. She clenched her hands. She really, really wanted that drink now.

She heard the clicking noises of his automatic coffeemaker and a moment later caught the scent of java in the air. “Smells good.”

“Milk and sugar?”

“Thanks.” Her voice was still petulant.

Blake carried the mug of steaming coffee to the wood coffee table. “Careful, it’s hot. Better let it cool a minute.”

Carson stared at the creamy brown liquid, her hands clasped between her knees.

Blake grabbed an armchair and sat in it, his eyes on her. “Carson?”

“What?”

“What did they say?”

“They’re going in a different direction. I have a great résumé. They’d like to hang on to it. But no.”

“Okay, that’s a good rejection.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s really great,” she snapped sarcastically.

“I know it’s not what you were hoping would happen. I’m disappointed, too. But it’s not the end of the world. Hey, something just popped up this week. Something you might really like. Maybe even better.”

“Not now, Blake.”

“Why not now?” Urgency entered his voice. “Just listen. It’s with Waterkeepers of Charleston. They’re a great nonprofit. They—”

“I already have another job.”

Blake silenced and tilted his head to look at her with a guarded gaze. “What job is that?”

“You know what job. With Jason Kowalski. I called him to find out what the status was. He told me it was a good thing I’d reached out because he was in the process of getting his team for the film together. It’s going to be a major film. Big budget.”

It felt as though the temperature in the room had just dropped twenty degrees. Blake’s face was set. “So you took it?”

“I told him I’d let him know by the end of the week.”

Blake looked vaguely out the window. “I thought you were going to give us until the wedding to find you a job. That’s a month away. We’d agreed.”


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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